Tré Burt: Caught It from the Rye

Songwriters don’t exist in a vacuum. They learn their craft by listening to other songwriters, assessing what works and what doesn’t, what fits and what doesn’t, what inspires and what doesn’t. Almost all of today’s generation of artists run their roots through a handful of heroes: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt, and John […]

Bonny Light Horseman: Bonny Light Horseman

When you listen, today, to history as documented early on in the folk and blues cannons, it’s all too apparent that the human condition hasn’t come as far as the songs have over the centuries. Whether political oppression or romantic devastation, we’re just really up to the same shenanigans we’ve always been up to. So, […]

Sarah Harmer: “St. Peter’s Bay”

The world is at the brink, in so many ways, none more terrifying than the climate catastrophe that we humans have created through our capitalist, consumerist selfishness. In times like this, art seems both futile and vital. On one hand, it feels like an overly indulgent luxury stemming from incredibly excessive privilege to focus on […]

Kelly Does Her Best: Top 25 of the 2010s

As we hit the end of the decade, it’s worth looking back to survey the musical landscape. From debuts to breakthroughs, the 2010s saw a whole new vanguard emerge in roots music, including Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens, and Alabama Shakes. Some of these artists released more than one truly brilliant record during the […]

Hawktail: “Annbjørg”

True musical talent is a gift to the world, at any level. But when the player’s skills reach into virtuoso terrain, it is an absolute wonder to behold. Anyone who’s ever seen Yo-Yo Ma perform would likely agree. So what happens when, essentially, four Yo-Yo Mas join forces in one band? Hello, Hawktail. Populated by […]

The Avett Brothers: Closer Than Together

Political songs are a tough beat. They can’t be too preachy nor overly earnest or else they’ll fall on deaf ears. The best ones, it seems, tie the political to the personal in such a tangle that, even if you don’t relate to the problem, you relate to the person. Gretchen Peters’ “Lowlands” and Brandi […]

Michaela Anne: Desert Dove

Country music has long leaned into the un-simple aspects of life, like cheating on someone you love with someone you don’t, for example. That’s because being human is an un-simple experience. It’s messy and painful and difficult, occasionally even at the same time that it’s nice and joyful and fun. So when Michaela Anne weaves […]

Andrew Combs: Ideal Man

There’s a Pampers commercial that hinges on the line, “Having a baby doesn’t just change your life, it changes everything.” Not sure there’s a parent around that would argue that point, though some might argue the ways in which it changes things. As with all of life’s challenges, people respond to parenthood differently, especially the […]

Molly Sarlé: Karaoke Angel

Whether paradoxes or purgatory, liminal states of existence make people uneasy. Most folks like their status quo binary world of black or white, not black and white or, for heaven’s sake, GREY. That would be sheer chaos wrapped in pure madness for those who can’t even handle circles in their square lives. Well, with Karaoke […]

Pieta Brown: Freeway

Good art draws you into its world, fully and intentionally, to the point that, even upon completing your immersive cycle, you don’t yet want to leave. Film and television have a lot more to work with, in terms of composing their own aesthetic universe, but albums, too, can create aural worlds unto themselves. Singer/songwriter Pieta […]

Kim Richey: Long Way Back

“I started off that record scared to death,” Kim Richey recalls of making Glimmer with producer Hugh Padgham back in 1999 in New York and London. A disastrous haircut, unfamiliar musicians, and oversized budgets didn’t help matters. “I think we spent the first couple of days getting sounds in the studio with all the musicians […]

Billy Strings: Home

Though music journalists — and dictionaries — generally consider “song” and “tune” to be synonyms, real-deal pickers and players make a distinction: “Songs” have lyrics; “tunes” don’t. In some bluegrass and old-time circles, though, the lyrics feel like afterthoughts, just easy ways to turn fast-picking tunes into sing-able songs whether or not anyone in the […]

Madison Cunningham: Who Are You Now

Though more prevalent with more years to their credit, neither talent nor wisdom can be exclusively tied to age. Sometimes artists come out of the gate fairly fully formed with enough of both to really make a statement. Fiona Apple certainly did, as well as Brandi Carlile. More recently, Jade Bird joined that list. And […]

Humbird: Pharmakon

Not everyone likes to be challenged by their music of choice. Some are content to put an album or playlist on and let it run its course as a musical backdrop to whatever forefront activity they are undertaking. And that is an absolutely fine way to listen. Others, though, like to lock arms with an […]

Jonah Tolchin: Fires for the Cold

Watching talented young musicians get off to a great start then continue to grow into the truest versions of themselves is a wonderful thing. Some emerge fairly fully formed, while others need a bit more time and space, as they roam through various genres and try on various styles. When Clover Lane came out in […]

Shawn Colvin: Steady On (acoustic)

Even amidst so many albums that we love, there are a few in each person’s life that save us, soothe us, heal us, and hold us again and again for decades. Their timelessness is found mainly in the songwriting with a story-telling so deep and true that not even years can diminish the potency. Now […]

Ana Egge: Is It the Kiss

Great songs — honest songs — don’t only give us a lens through which we can see their writers; they give us a look inside ourselves. They connect us to our own hearts, as well as each others’, across time, space, and every other barrier imaginable. They teach us and reach us, heal us and […]

Spirit Family Reunion: Ride Free

String bands, very often, are far more concerned with their picking and plucking than they are with their writing and singing. That’s a mood in and of itself, it seems. But there are a few old-time groups that fit all the pieces together. With their new release, Ride Free, Spirit Family Reunion shows themselves to […]

Eilen Jewell: G*

Folk music is just that… music for, by, and of folks. It tells the stories of a people in both real time and hindsight, so that we might remember the lessons, losses, and legacies of our individual and collective histories. Blues music fills the same role. So it’s no wonder that bluesy folk artist Eilen […]

Jamestown Revival: San Isabel

As the world races through the present toward a future fueled by technological advances that will, allegedly, make our lives simpler, some people are taking the opposite tack, eschewing technology for simpler ways in order to enjoy their lives in the present. It’s a harkening back to the era when less really was more, and […]

Keb’ Mo’: Oklahoma

Joy is a commodity that is very often in short supply. In the past few years, it seems even more rare. Maybe that’s because it’s a state of being, rather than a mere emotion, so it takes effort to cultivate and maintain joy in our lives. Anyone who’s ever been in the presence of blues […]

Courtney Hartman: Ready Reckoner

Not everyone can be alone with nothing but their thoughts to fill the space that surrounds them. Even if other people are around, giving yourself over to stillness, solitude, and silence necessarily demands the courage to be vulnerable and honest in your internal self-assessments. Imagine hiking a trail in that state for four hours… four […]

The Small Glories: Assiniboine & the Red

It’s a wondrous moment in life when a person finds their place in the world, geographically speaking. Finding one’s metaphorical/spiritual/emotional place is a whole other adventure, to be sure, but physical locations can certainly help even so, as different places have different energies. Some folks love the ocean, while others crave the mountains. But everyone […]

Dylan LeBlanc: Renegade

The rock-ification of folk music has a long and honorable history tracing back more than 50 years to Bob Dylan going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and others were members of folk-rock’s foundational movement, as well, with oodles more joining in the decades since, many of whom have more […]

Roo Panes: Quiet Man (Deluxe Edition)

There’s something about a good record that jumps out at the listener within the first few moments. It might be something technically proficient, but more likely, it’s something emotionally resonant that is being translated through the filters of talent and technology to hit the ear in just the right way. That’s the experience of listening […]

Ani DiFranco: No Walls Mixtape

As the story goes, when asked to define country music, songwriter Harlan Howard retorted, “Country music isn’t nothing but three chords and the truth,” and many have lived by those words of wisdom ever since. A lot of folk music abides by the same constraints. Heck, a lot of ALL music does. Every now and […]

Mavis Staples: We Get By

There are all sorts of clichés to describe the cyclical nature of time: “Everything old is new again”; “History repeats itself”; “The more things change, the more they stay the same”; and others. This particular moment in time feels like a grab bag of eras colliding. While young adults are sporting the acid wash of […]

Caroline Spence: Mint Condition

In her new Netflix special, The Call to Courage, Brené Brown talks about how it’s the small, ordinary moments in life that we miss the most once we no longer have them. Whether that loss applies to a pet, a parent, a partner, or someone else doesn’t much matter. What matters is that life — […]

Joy Williams: Front Porch

Being trendy seems like an absolutely exhausting, if not thoroughly disheartening, pursuit. Even if you are a trend-setter, as soon as a certain phase passes, there is evidence in the world that may come to be embarrassing for you. (Is there anyone from Gen X donning acid wash in its second coming? No way. We […]

Jade Bird: Ruins

Like most everything else in life, folk singers come in cycles, riding whichever traditions and trends suit the moment. Do you need a new Paul Simon? Check out Robby Hecht. Would you want a contemporary Carole King? Listen to Sara Bareilles. Might you love a modern-day Ani DiFranco? Pick up Jade Bird. (Now, yes, there’s […]

John Paul White: The Hurting Kind

People love to talk about what is and isn’t country music. Some folks think it’s whatever country radio wants it to be. Others believe it necessarily includes some very specific elements — real-life stories about hardship and humility set against a backdrop of real-life instruments like guitar, fiddle, and pedal steel. After all, back in […]

Molly Tuttle – When You’re Ready

Debut albums come in lots of proverbial shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they are the very first thing anyone has ever heard from an artist. Other times, they are the obvious next step in a career already brimming with accomplishments and accolades. That latter category is the one in which we find Molly Tuttle. Having previously […]

Anna Tivel: The Question

Songwriters do something really special: They take details of the world around and within us, and express them in words and music in order to connect us not only to them and their work, but to each other, if not ourselves, as well. It’s an infinitely generous gift they have. And the ones who can […]

Caleb Elliott: Forever to Fade

Transitioning from one way of life to another doesn’t always go well. Whether that’s shifting from religious cult to popular culture, side player to center stage, or classical musician to secular songwriter, not everyone can handle their world being turned on its ear. Caleb Elliott is not everyone. And, based on his debut solo album, […]

John Smith: Hummingbird

JThere’s something truly special about English folk music, whether it’s the dulcet tones of Nick Drake or the gentle lilt of Sandy Denny. With ancient structures, intersecting cultures, and rugged coastlines aplenty from which to draw inspiration, the genre often leans toward the melancholic, reflecting the UK’s oft-grey skies, and stories are passed from one […]

Lucy Negro Redux: Art, Agency, Love, & Lust

Every artistic form has the potential, on its own, to be both transformative and transcendent. So what happens when an alchemist pours three forms together? A piece of work that is so deeply profound, unyielding, and exalted that words inevitably fail to convey its power. Meet the Nashville Ballet’s Lucy Negro Redux. The ballet’s artistic […]

Ordinary Elephant: Honest

“Keep kind all that rises from your chest to your tongue. Don’t ever let your words undo the work you’ve done,” sings Crystal Damore on “Worth the Weight,” a song that beats at the heart of Ordinary Elephant’s potent new album, Honest. In the song, it’s a two-line enjoinder from an adult to a kid. […]

Hayes Carll: What It Is

At a Sturgill Simpson show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium a few years back, some drunk dudes got into a fight down in front of the stage. As they were escorted out, Simpson said something along the lines of, “One of these days, these bearded, redneck motherf#@kers are going to realize I’m not one of them.” […]

Yola: Walk Through Fire

There’s a thing that humans do: We put things within boxes and boundaries, so that we might, somehow, understand the world around us. We have a deep need to know where something or someone fits in the greater scheme of things, even though nothing and no one really does. “This fits that. That means this.” […]

The War and Treaty: “If It’s in Your Heart”

There are a lot of things about being human that are hard and scary. On the inestimably long list, being vulnerable with another person is most certainly near the top. It requires immense courage to share something of yourself with another, when their response isn’t sufficiently pre-determined to be positive. Whether it’s saying “I love […]

J.S. Ondara: Tales of America

The idea — or, more rightly so, the myth — of the American dream is something that reverberates the world over. Though the specific details are likely different for everyone, the overarching vision is certainly the same, summed up pretty well in the iconic “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” phrase. In the world’s […]

David Huckfelt: “Still and Still Moving”

The wisdom of the ages-old adage “This too shall pass” tracks back to Persian times and Sufi poets. Various tellings from a multitude of traditions recount a random Eastern monarch who wished to have a ring etched with a saying that would help him through hard times. The saying certainly accomplishes that goal, but also […]

Kelly Does Her Best: A Look Ahead at 2019

If you’re a folk fan, then you know that the over-abundance of stunning talent within the realm never leaves a year without some truly stellar releases. It’s no surprise,then, that 2019 is already exciting to ponder. Among Folk Alley favorites, Dylan LeBlanc has been in the studio with Dave Cobb, whileCaroline Spence got it done […]